When Can You Use Your Workplace Email?

While some employees may be harboring an assumption of privacy at work, it is important to recognize that this is not always the case.

Here’s one way to think about it: during the workday, the employer owns your time. Anything you do, your employer has the right to look at and understand what is going on.

So what does that mean in terms of utilizing your workplace email? Read on to learn the basics of email privacy and how a recent NLRB ruling impacts the issue.

An employee, in general, does not have any privacy in their emails at work. The email system belongs to the employer and therefore they are permitted to monitor employee’s communications.

It is important to note that even if an employer doesn’t have a specified email policy, it still probably has the legal right to read employee email messages sent using its equipment and network.

A National Labor Relations Board ruling in December, however, allows that as long as workers have access to company email, they can use it to discuss workplace issues, including union organization.

The associated case was filed by the Communication Workers of American union in 2012 when they failed in their attempt to organize employees of Purple Communications Inc. While Purple Communications asserted that their email restrictions were aimed at cutting down on workplace distraction, CWA argued that prohibiting Purple employees from using the company’s email system for non-business purposes and on behalf of organizations not associated with the company interfered with the CWA’s organizing efforts.

According to the NLRB, “Employee use of email for statutorily protected communications on nonworking time must presumptively be permitted by employers who have chosen to give employees access to their email systems.”

Several other aspects of the ruling:

  • Employers are not required to grant email access to employees who have not previously been given access.

  • Employers have the opportunity to prove that a ban on email access is warranted due to the disruption in production it would cause.

At the end of the day, employees should not use their workplace email for private messages or to send any emails that may be inappropriate or discriminatory in nature.      

Sources:

  • FindLaw
  • Fortune
  • National Law Review
  • About.com
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